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The Beer Dinner

by: BeerAdvocate on 03-24-2005
In the past we've talked a bit about beer dinners, but we've never focused on what makes a beer dinner. In our opinion, the brewer's dinners being hosted by the Cambridge Brewing Company should be the model for all beer dinners. When we attended their brewer's dinner on March 12 it immediately impressed and inspired us to create the following tips that any brewpub, restaurant or beer bar could adapt to create their own. You could even use portions of these tips to host one at home for friends and family.

Offer a window of time
Hmm ... beer and food.Most beer dinners are on a schedule, which means everyone has to keep up with the pace. We recommend providing attendees with a window. Make it comfortable. Allow them to make reservations and enjoy their dinner at anytime, at their own any pace. If you have openings, offer the beer dinner to walk-ins if your resources allow.

Keep it informal
Beer dinners can get slowed down by too much talking in-between or during courses by the featured brewery or host. Drop the speech. Make it more personal and interactive by visiting each table. Start by thanking them for coming, then talk about the pairings and invite any questions.

Five courses, five beers
This combination tends to work best. Offer a soup, appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert. Keep the portions small and the beer no larger than half pints. This offers great variety, while boosting the perceived value. Offering half pints will provide a nice balance between enough beers for the pairing without pushing any tolerance limits.

Pairing Beer & Food
For those of you who are bound to the wine pairing school of thought, think of most ale as red wine and lager as white wine. Though it honestly doesn't matter, this might help to convert some taste buds. Other tips: try a selection of contrast and complement, or keep sweet with sweet, or tart with tart. However try to keep your beer sweeter or tarter than the sweet or tart food on the plate. The more hop bitterness the beer has, the heartier or livelier the dish needs to be to hold its own, however don't overwhelm palates or dishes by destroying what the chef is trying to achieve. Of course you could throw all of this out the window and just have some fun! Checkout Beer 101 for more tips.

Cook with beer
Hmm ... beer and food.Add another depth to the beer dinner by infusing some of the featured beers into the dishes, like adding them to bases or creating tasty reductions. Cuisine à la bière is always a big hit.

Make the menu approachable
While you can't cater to everyone, it's always best to offer a varied selection of meat and vegetables dishes so you don't exclude anyone and provide some interesting diversity of flavors. Cambridge Brewing Company typically offers a vegetable-based soup, a choice of 2 or 3 salads and 3 or 4 entrees with a wide range of meat and vegetable dishes to select from, and 2 or 3 desserts. Not only does this make for a very exciting menu, but it'll also generate more interest.

Make the price reasonable
We've seen all-inclusive prices from $35 to $100. The magic number for us is: $45 (not including tip). Just under $10 a course, and it's not $50, which is a breaking point for many. Any lower and something suffers, be it the menu or your wallet, and any higher you run the risk of being too expensive. An exception to this might be a fine dinning restaurant, where patrons are comfortable with getting gouged.

The most successful beer dinners don't make any money
Sounds odd, but it's true. If you're throwing a beer dinner to just make money, don't - the profit margin is very tight. First and foremost, beer dinners are great promotional and educational tools. Use them as such and we guarantee repeat business, which is where you'll make your money in the long run.

Have fun with it
If you're not having fun, then it's not worth your time.

Stay-tuned to cambrew.com for future Cambridge Brewing Company dinners, and our Beer Calendar for beer dinners near you.

Respect Beer.
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